A cargo vessel went to anchor and commenced pumping out ballast water from No1C Water Ballast Tank (WBT) to adjust its trim before a canal transit the following day. Shortly before pumping was completed, the bilge alarm for cargo hold No. 5 WBT activated. The Chief Officer instructed an ordinary seaman to take soundings of the hold bilge, which revealed 0.5m of water in the bilge.
The vessel successfully transited the canal and berthed alongside at 1700. Cargo operations were to commence at 1900. No cargo movements were planned in hold No. 5 at this port.
At 1800 the Chief Officer instructed the duty engine room watchkeeper to transfer ballast water from No. 1 WBT to No. 5 WBT which was situated below cargo hold No. 5.
Shortly after starting, the hold bilge alarm sounded so the transfer of ballast water was stopped. No crew member was directed to investigate why the alarm had sounded; instead, the alarm was accepted, and the water transfer system reconfigured to pump out the hold. Ballast water transfer subsequently restarted but approximately 15 minutes later the No. 5 hold bilge’s “Low insulation” alarm sounded. The ballast operation stopped once again while the ship’s electrician was despatched to investigate. On arrival they found that the hold was flooded to a height of 1.70 m.
Flooded cargo hold
The incident was reported to the Master and portable emergency pumps deployed.
The next day the Chief Officer, Bosun and an AB entered Hold No. 5 to confirm that the water had been drained. When cargo operations resumed, 26 flood-damaged containers from Hold 5 had to be transferred ashore. During the inspection various hand tools (screwdrivers, hammer, and pieces of an old gasket) were discovered in the hold.
An investigation confirmed that the bilge and ballast system valves were in good condition, and the structural integrity of the cargo hold was intact. It concluded that water had entered the hold from a manhole that had not been properly secured following work within the double bottom tank. It was noted that the inadequate reaction by the crew when the bilge alarm was activated was a contributing factor to the incident.
This report raises several serious points:
- All alarms, particularly bilge alarms, must be treated with concern and investigated immediately. The initial hold bilge sounding of 54cm in Hold No. 5 was significant and should have been compared against daily hold bilge soundings to determine the possibility of water ingress into a compartment. An inspection of the hold by the Chief Officer should have been a priority action.
- activation of alarms indicates a deviation from the norm: it is imperative to STOP and ask ‘WHY?’ In this case there were enough clues to alert the crew to that fact that something was wrong. Carrying on with a ballast transfer without investigating only exacerbated the problem and resulted in 26 damaged containers.
- There are no indications that the water was checked for contamination prior to being discharged overboard in port.
- The presence of tools indicates either poor engineering practices or a task not completed correctly. Reasons for both could include fatigue, the presence of distractions, time or resource pressure. They could of course also point to a poor safety culture, complacency, or poor supervision. All of these are common Human Factors that lead to incidents such as this one.
Human Factors relating to this report
Alerting – Do you always speak up when you should? If not, why?
Communications – The alarms indicated a deviation from the norm. Do not assume that all is well; check.
Teamwork – Encourage challenges to ‘group think’: has anyone checked the hold bilges? The tools left from the previous work indicated that the job was incomplete. A proper post-work inspection was not carried out.